Awesome tech you can’t buy yet: Bionic hearing earbuds and bladeless wind turbines

At any given moment there are approximately a zillion different crowdfunding campaigns happening on the Web. Take a stroll through Kickstarter or Indiegogo and you’ll find no shortage of weird, useless, and downright stupid projects out there – alongside some real gems. We’ve cut through the Pebble clones and janky iPhone cases to round up the most unusual, ambitious, and exciting projects out there this week. Keep in mind that any crowdfunded project — even the best intentioned — can fail, so do your homework before cutting a check for the gadget of your dreams.

Vortex — Bladeless wind turbines

Vortex Bladeless

Instead of capturing energy through the circular motion of a propellor, Vortex turbines take advantage of a physical phenomenon known as vorticity — an aerodynamic effect that creates a pattern of spinning vortices or whirlwinds. Think about the little eddies that form around the edge of a canoe paddle when you move it through the water. This is the same principle — except substituting air instead for water, of course, and with the air moving around a stationary paddle (the turbine) that sticks out of the ground.

As the wind blows past the turbine, little whirlwinds are created behind it, and when they get big enough, they cause the structure to oscillate. This kinetic energy is then used to power an alternator, which multiplies the frequency of the tower’s oscillation and converts the motion in to usable electricity. The result? A drastically cheaper wind turbine. Vortex claims that its design can reduce manufacturing costs by 53 percent, cut maintenance costs by 80 percent, and would represent a 40 percent reduction in both the carbon footprint and generation costs when compared to conventional bladed wind turbines.

Find this campaign on Indiegogo

Here — Bionic hearing earbuds

Here Active Listening

Here is essentially a set of wireless earbuds that give you the ability to selectively filter and amplify sounds from the world around you in real time — allowing you to fine-tune your hearing for certain environments. If properly adjusted, this little gizmo (which its creators refer to as the world’s first “hearable tech” device) could help you do things like hear your dining partner better in a crowded restaurant, understand your friends at loud concerts without them screaming in your ear, or even eavesdrop on people from the other side of a room.

The way it works is pretty straightforward. On the outward-facing part of the earbuds, there’s a set of microphones. These pick up audio from the surrounding world, which is then sent through a digital signal processor (DSP), and subsequently played into your ears with no perceivable latency (i.e. under 30 microseconds). With the help of an accompanying smartphone app, you can adjust how the DSP behaves, and make the headphones produce sound waves that add, remove, or augment the original audio signal. It’s basically like having a volume knob and EQ settings for every single sound that enters your ears.

Find this campaign on Kickstarter

Oval — Digital hang drum

Oval Sound

Ever heard somebody play a hang drum? It’s a pretty dope little instrument. Invented just barely over a decade ago, it’s become immensely popular in the past few years, popping up in the laps of everyone from street musicians to professional recording artists. Part of the reason it’s become so popular is because it’s mechanically simple, and users can produce that sweet steel-drum-like sound by simply tapping a hand on one of the hang’s dimples. Bigger dimples make deep noises, smaller ones make higher noises.

But for all the drum’s simplicity, it’s also a bit limited. Most only have about seven or eight different notes you can play, so in order to get different notes, you need to get a completely different size of drum. That’s where Oval comes in. It’s basically an electronic version of the original hang drum, which allows users to customize the sounds each dimple makes, but still play in the same fashion as they did before.

Find this campaign on Kickstarter

HidrateMe — Smart water bottle


Smart water bottles are nothing new, but this one is noteworthy for a couple reasons. The real selling point behind the HidrateMe bottle is its app-supported hydration-tracking technology. The app, which will be a free download available on Android and iOS devices, provides a daily drinking goal based on information about your height, weight, gender, age, and activity level. The app syncs up with the water bottle’s integrated water-level sensor via Bluetooth and actively tracks your water intake. When you’re running behind schedule, LEDs inside the bottle’s electrical module light up, providing a visual prompt directly from the bottle.

The accompanying smartphone app provides a more detailed analysis of your daily hydration. It can also pull in location-based temperature, humidity and elevation data to adjust your daily hydration goals and will be able to integrate with fitness trackers like those from Fitbit and Jawbone.

Find this campaign on Kickstarter

Look — Auto-updating digital photo frame

Artkick Look

On the surface, Look is just another sleek, snazzy, network-enabled display intended to hang on your wall and showcase digital art. We’ve seen plenty of these on Kickstarter before. Using an accompanying smartphone app, you can load different images onto it and swap them out as you see fit; so it’s basically a souped-up version of those kitschy digital picture frames that were mildly popular five or six years ago. It’s not exactly a new idea at this point, but Look does have a few notable features that make it stand out from the crowd.

Most notably, unlike some of its competitors, Look has the unique ability to automatically pull images from your social media accounts. Just link up your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else to the Look app, and it’ll immediately grab pictures whenever you post them — no cumbersome manual updates required. Other frames allow you to update the images you display, but Look takes the next step and refreshes your photo stream autonomously. Pretty cool!

Find this campaign on Kickstarter